Balance of Power
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, the Addams Family, or Miskatonic University. The only thing harmed in the making of this chapter was Dumbledore's ego.
Snape glared across his desk at the woman who sat opposite him, but she seemed remarkably unfazed. He wasn’t quite sure what to do in these circumstances; most of his previous conferences with parents had been with the fathers of his students, who mostly tried to use intimidation (unsuccessfully) or bribery (sometimes successful, he admitted to himself – his salary as Potions Master was adequate, but no more than that) to get better grades for their darling little dunderheads. Some few conferences had been with the mothers of students, who used different ploys – shrieking, crying, or a different kind of bribery – to seek advancement for their children. This was the first time he’d had to cope with a grandmother.
The woman who’d been introduced to him only as “Grandmama Addams” at the open house on Saturday afternoon, and who’d sat quietly knitting a shapeless sweater designed for someone with three arms and two heads throughout his presentations on basic Potions, now sat in his most uncomfortable chair, looking around his office with beady black eyes whose sharp gaze didn’t miss a thing. She wore a pea-green robe covered by a flowered shawl, none of whose colours even remotely matched the green. A weedy-looking corsage held the shawl together. Bone-white fingertips protruded from fingerless gloves of black lace, clutching a worn carpetbag that overflowed her lap.
“Madam,” he finally said, “if all you want is to look at my office, that can be arranged another time. There are other parents who have things they actually wish to talk about.”
“Of course,” said the old woman in a high, creaky voice. “I was just taking the opportunity to get to know you. You can learn a lot about people from their bookshelves.”
Snape glanced at his shelves, with their familiar clutter of books, parchments, and random bottles of herbs and odd souvenirs, and wondered uneasily what exactly she had learned.
“I’m a bit surprised to see you,” he confessed. “I was expecting the other Mrs Addams.”
“My daughter-in-law? She went to see the Divination teacher - that’s her specialty. I’ve been known to fiddle with a potion or two, so I got to see you,” she said, with a snaggle-toothed grin.
“Lucky me,” drawled Snape. “What in particular did you wish to speak to me about? Your grandchildren—”
She waved her hand dismissively. “They’re both doing well enough. Pugsley isn’t interested in anything that can’t be made to explode, catch fire, or emit poisonous vapours, and Wednesday, well, let’s just say she’ll test better than her homework would make you suspect.”
Snape nodded. He’d already realised that about Pugsley Addams – just last week he’d caught the boy showing Longbottom how to make a perfectly innocuous cleaning potion emit a vile green fume by the simple addition of saltpetre, but at least he had the sense to put small samples of potions into a tester cauldron before he did anything to them, rather than blow up an entire batch. It did tend to keep the class lively, and Snape would have liked to have the concession on tester cauldrons at Diagon Alley – it was clear the Longbottom/Addams team was going to go through a lot of them. And Wednesday had done better on her last quiz than her homework would suggest. Perhaps she was one of those who performed best under pressure. He would have to keep an eye on her.
“No, I’m here to talk about Harry. He’s not my blood kin, you know, the connection is through my husband’s family, but I couldn’t love him any more if he was.”
“I’m sure,” said Snape sourly. This was exactly what he’d been afraid of – the boy was pampered to a faretheewell. The Addamses were undoubtedly more concerned with his welfare than with their own children’s – probably in an attempt to get their hands on the Potter and Black fortunes, he thought. From the report he'd received of Wednesday’s comments to Malfoy, the Addams Family weren’t exactly penniless, but it was typical of families that had money to want more. “And exactly what is your concern about Mr Potter?”
“I believe that his homework assignments and finished potions work may not have been … correctly evaluated,” she said.
“Mr Potter’s written work is inadequately documented, his technique sloppy, and his finished potions barely acceptable. He is easily distracted in class, and I suspect his quiz grades rely more on guesswork than on proper revision,” said Snape witheringly.
“Well, I disagree. I taught all three of those children all their basic technique, and while I’ve occasionally seen Pugsley distracted by a good explosion, Harry never loses his focus.”
“Madam, while you may - how did you put it? - ‘fiddle around with a potion or two’, I am a fully accredited Potions Master. I think I am capable of assessing a student’s work accurately.”
“Well, that’s as may be,” the old bat said, opening the carpetbag. “After the first week, the children weren’t too sure of that, so all three of them have been sending me copies of their homework and samples of their potions since September. They’ve been evaluated and certified by one of the best American Potions Mistresses in the business. Perhaps you know the name?” She set out several scrolls of parchment, all written in Potter’s sloppy handwriting – the boy didn’t like using quill pens and let his dislike show. At the bottom of each scroll was an evaluation written in spidery handwriting with purple ink, and a purple wax seal was attached. Next was a set of potions vials, all labelled in Harry’s handwriting and also sealed with a purple seal.
Snape’s hand shook slightly as he picked up the parchments. The seal was genuine, he could see that at a glance. He had one of his own, to use with his own unique colour of wax and ink (a rather bilious green, unfortunately – all the good colours were already taken by the time he achieved his Mastery). No one would dare fake the seal of the International Potion Master’s Guild, not without risking becoming potions ingredients themselves. He glanced over the first parchment – he remembered this one, right down to the quill spatters for which he’d deducted points. The grading was fair and accurate, with extra credit given for footnotes and citations for which he had deducted points, claiming they were ‘unnecessary frippery’. It was the last time footnotes had appeared on any of the Addams Trio’s papers; they had merely included the citations within the text after that.
His gaze skittered down to the signature next to the seal.
“Eu … Eudora … you got Eudora Frump to grade children’s papers?”
“I am Eudora Frump, Mr Snape. Got my seal well before I married the late Mr Addams, and I’ve kept working all these years. Two of my books are on your shelves,” she said, nodding to the shelf where Frump’s Formulas for Fermentation and its companion volume, Perilously Potent Potables, held pride of place. “I retired when the grandchildren started coming, but a Master’s first duty is to teach. Given three captive students, well …”
“How did a Squib get to be a Potions Mistress?”
“Now, now, Mr Snape,” said Mrs Addams. “Think logically. I wasn’t born an Addams. I’m as full-blooded a witch as they come in America. It was my husband who was the Squib.”
“But … if you don’t do magic …?”
“Whoever said I don’t? Or what kind? There’s more to being a witch than all this silly wand-waving, you know. Or would, if you ever set foot off this island. The Great Suppression wasn’t as thorough elsewhere as it was here.”
“What Great Suppression? I’ve never heard of…”
“I believe you call it the Great Purification – you can look it up. Or ask Lupin, he knows. It’s not my place to teach you your own history. But that’s neither here nor there. The question is what to do about Harry’s grades.”
“What do you expect me to do, madam?” Snape said coldly.
“I expect you to grade his work fairly,” she snapped back. “Both you and I know he’s capable of working at this level and better. Most of the potions you’ve been assigning are ones I taught the children years ago. They could brew them in their sleep. More than that, I expect you to treat the other students fairly as well. You did sign the Paracelsus Pledge when you achieved your Mastery, did you not?”
“What is the third clause?” she asked.
He found himself responding automatically, as he would have to the Master who had trained him. “‘As the Master is known by his Student, it is the responsibility of the Master to train his Apprentices well and treat them with respect.’ But this isn’t an Apprentice situation.”
“Pish and tosh!” she said, waving her hand again. “That’s mere legalistic quibbling, and you know it! It doesn’t matter that Harry isn’t an Apprentice, nor is he ever likely to be. He’s an excellent brewer, but he doesn’t have the interest or the inner vision it takes to seek a Mastery. Pugsley’s a different case and may enter a specialized Apprenticeship when he’s older. The point is that at eleven, it isn’t always obvious which students are Apprentice material and which aren’t. Even that Longbottom boy could surprise you. So you have to treat them all as potential Apprentices. But if you reward or penalize them based on their political value, their family connections, or what House they are – stupid concept if you ask me – they’ll never have a chance to find out if they could be Apprentices. Or Aurors or Mediwitches or any of the other things that require Potions skills. You, Mister Snape,” she said, emphasizing the dismissive ‘Mister’, “are the first person representing the Art of potion-making to the children of Britain. If you turn the talented away and sponsor the incompetent, then you will be responsible for disrepute falling on our Art – damage which may take a generation or more to undo.”
She reached out and tapped one bony finger on one of the sealed parchments. “This, Mr Snape, is evidence – evidence of either incompetence or deliberate maliciousness as a teacher, neither of which is acceptable in a member of the Guild. And as a senior Guild member myself, I have no choice but to make you answer for it. I would be completely within my rights to haul you up before the Guild Council tomorrow. If you can convince them that it was just a youthful indiscretion – you are far younger than most of the Guild members, after all – then you might keep your Mastery credentials, under the supervision of a senior member who could remedy your deficiencies. If they believe it’s been done out of malice, then they might drum you out of the Guild entirely. How long do you think your cushy little job would last then?”
“Albus would …” He stopped abruptly.
“Albus Dumbledore is an Alchemist – a classically trained one, at that,” said Mrs Addams – no, Mistress Frump. “You know about the rivalry between the Alchemists’ League and the Guild as well as I do. Are you sure he wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to give the Guild a bloody nose – and save the difference in salaries between a Potions Master and a simple Potions instructor into the bargain? That’s if he decided to keep you at all.”
“But … but …” Snape spluttered. The very idea of leaving Hogwarts was abhorrent. He’d spent more of his life here than any other place, and he had nowhere else to go. True, he owned his father’s house, but he didn’t actually live there, and retreating there as a defrocked Potions Master with no prospects would validate every cutting remark his father had ever made. The associates of his youth were mostly, like him, trying to live down their earlier political affiliation, and while they were willing to associate with him when their children’s school careers were at stake, they would have no use for him were he to lose his situation.
“Of course, there might be a way to avoid the necessity,” she said slyly.
Of course, he thought. Blackmail. I should have expected it. “What are your conditions, Mistress Frump?” he asked, managing a sneer.
“First of all, you’re going to regrade all of Harry’s work, fairly. And all the other students in your classes. Yes, I know it’s a lot of work, but you haven’t posted grades for this term yet, so no harm done. And you’re going to keep grading them fairly from here on out. I’ll take you on for some additional mentoring for a period of, shall we say, seven years?” The fact that this was the period that Harry Potter would be attending Hogwarts went unmentioned. “That should be enough time to whip you into shape, and it’s no more than the Guild would require. It’s obvious no one taught you how to teach, did they? We’ll rectify that, never fear. You’ll find it easier once you’re not trying to make it up as you go along. And if it’s research you really want to do, which I see it is,” she said, shooting a glance at his bookshelves, “we’ll get you some time for that. And as for that … that Alchemist,” she almost spat, “here’s how we’ll get it all past him …”
On Sunday afternoon, following another sumptuous luncheon, the Hogwarts carriages arrived to take the parents back down to Hogsmeade Station, and most of the students thronged outside to see them off. Only thirteen parents remained, the officers and core members of the Parents’ Association, and Dumbledore sincerely wished they were on the carriages as well. Fairy tales notwithstanding, wishing didn’t work, and he soon found himself conjuring suitable seats for all of them in his office. In a fit of pique, he conjured the stiffest, hardest, most uncomfortable chairs he could think of for Gomez and Morticia Addams, only to find to his disgust that they seemed to like them very much.
“Ladies … Gentlemen,” he said, nodding cordially to the mixed group of parents. “May I offer you some tea? Biscuits? Lemon drops?” As various parents accepted his offers or demurred, he contemplated the group that filled his office to bursting, despite his having expanded the room twice.
Mrs Addams couldn’t have come up with a more varied group if she’d tried. Dumbledore prided himself on knowing the names, House and Family affiliations of all his students, and he realized that besides herself and her husband, Mrs Addams had managed to arrange things so that the members of the Executive Committee, as she called it, included parents of students in every House and every year; they included pure-bloods, full-bloods, half-bloods, Muggle-born and Muggles. He wondered who’d helped her with it; it was masterfully done and couldn’t have been accidental.
Backing up Dumbledore himself were all four Heads of House, plus Argus Filch, representing the maintenance and housekeeping staff, Madam Pomfrey, and Lucius Malfoy, representing the Board of Governors of the school. He would never have thought he and Malfoy would be on the same side of anything, but the circumstances were anything but usual.
“Shall we begin, then?” Dumbledore asked. The sooner this started, the sooner it would be over and everything would return to normal. Mrs Addams had a long list of topics, however, so he wasn’t hopeful.
“Thank you, Headmaster,” said Mrs Addams. “Your courtesy in permitting this visit is most appreciated, and we look forward to our next gathering.”
“What next -?”
“We’re planning a similar visit just before the spring break. We think two visits per year will be sufficient to allow the parents insight to their children’s education.”
“Two visits? Every year?”
“Yes, unless you think more would be better? One per term, perhaps?”
“No, no, two visits should be more than adequate,” said Dumbledore hastily.
“Two it is, then. Professor McGonagall has been most helpful with the organisation of this visit, and I hope we may continue to rely on her assistance.” Mrs Addams nodded almost regally at Minerva, who returned the nod graciously. “We would also like to thank Mr Filch, who has done a remarkable job of preparing the castle for our visit.”
There was a small round of applause, and Argus Filch preened. It wasn’t often that he got any thanks for anything.
Mrs Addams then asked a Josiah Poundstone – pure-blood, Dumbledore recalled, two children, a daughter who was a Ravenclaw fifth year and a Slytherin son who’d left school the year before, no trouble out of either of them, family not politically active though traditionally sort of Darkish – who reported on his committee’s impression of the castle and the grounds. While there was no complaint – Dumbledore snorted at the very idea of there being a complaint – about the castle itself, Mr Poundstone’s committee felt that the greenhouses should be expanded, that the housing provided for the gamekeeper was inadequate (being much too small for a man his size, and primitive to boot), and that some sort of fencing should be erected to keep the children out of the Forbidden Forest.
This was followed by Mrs Granger’s report – she was entirely dissatisfied with the food provided for the students. There was not enough variety, the meats were fatty, the vegetables overcooked, and the desserts too rich and sugary. Salads, raw vegetables, fresh fruits, whole-grain breads, ethnic foods (aside from the bi-weekly curry), and seasonings other than salt and pepper were all noticeable by their absence. She was also perturbed that she had not been able to see the kitchens, and hence had no idea whether the facilities for food storage and cooking were sanitary. Mrs Granger was concerned for the children’s health.
Madam Pomfrey rose to meet the challenge. “Mrs Granger, I resent the implication that we here at Hogwarts do not take adequate care for our charges. We are well aware that, left to their own devices, children would subsist on a diet consisting entirely of toast, bacon, sausages and sweets. We provide a traditional menu and make sure that the food is liberally enriched with nutrient potions. No Hogwarts student has ever suffered from a nutritional deficiency.”
“Perhaps not, Madam Pomfrey, but what of their diet when they leave school? If they do not learn to eat properly during their formative years, they are more than likely to continue their bad habits, but without the benefit of your potions they will rapidly find their health declining. Additionally, those of the students who are used to healthy fare before they come here find the selections quite lacking.”
“Indeed,” murmured Mrs Addams. “My children find the selections offered to be quite boring. They grew up being exposed to the cuisines of many cultures and an extremely varied diet.”
Dumbledore shuddered; he remembered just how varied the Addams diet was.
“I believe that if the children are offered a selection of side dishes, in addition to the basic fare provided, and you encourage them to try them, you would find they would vary their meals on their own, and you would not need to dose them with potions surreptitiously. I have noticed that the meals at the Head Table are different from those served the children, so obviously your kitchen staff can handle a more sophisticated menu.”
“Madam,” said Dumbledore, “our staff receive meals individually prepared their personal tastes, it is true. Asking the kitchen staff to extend that practice to the entire student body—”
“Would make them deliriously happy, sir,” Lucius Malfoy put in unexpectedly. “Your kitchen is staffed by house-elves, is it not?”
“Why, yes, but—”
“Your elves, sir, are most likely as bored with the food as the children are. They like nothing so much as a challenge, and learning an entire new menu is just what they like. A busy elf is a happy elf, as my mother used to say – and a happy elf stays out of trouble.”
“I shall take the matter under advisement,” said Dumbledore through gritted teeth. Being lectured on the proper management of house-elves – by Lucius Malfoy, of all people – was almost intolerable.
“If you wouldn’t mind, Headmaster, perhaps we could take this up in a smaller meeting with Madame Pomfrey and, er, the head of your kitchen staff, and perhaps Mr Malfoy might be willing to participate, since he knows how to handle house elves? I assure you, we’ll work out the best possible compromise to avoid any disruption.”
Then go away entirely, though Dumbledore, but he didn’t let any trace of his opinion show on his face, and murmured that that would be satisfactory. If he could just break the “issues” these people were coming up with into small chunks, they’d be easier to handle than trying to deal with them all at once.
“Very well, then,” said Mrs Addams, making a tiny tick mark on her list. “Let us get on to matters of the curriculum and the staff, shall we? I should proceed alphabetically, but there is one situation that was rather glaring – the total lack of a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.”
“Professor Quirrell was forced to leave us rather suddenly. A personal emergency, quite unexpected.”
“Emergencies usually are,” she said gently. “May I inquire as to how soon he may be returning to his post?”
“I am afraid I don’t have an answer for that question,” Dumbledore replied. “If he does not return shortly, I shall be searching for a new teacher.”
“May I suggest that you already have a qualified teacher on your staff? Remus Lupin would, I believe, make an excellent choice. He qualified for his Defence Mastery at the Miskatonic Institute in Massachusetts a few years ago.”
“Why is a qualified Defence Master teaching History of Magic?” asked Simon Greenstock. He had two sons, fifth and seventh-year Hufflepuffs, and was well aware of the problems with staffing the Defence position.
“Because of the curse, of course,” said Morticia. “He wished to stay at Hogwarts for more than one year.”
“The rumour of a curse is quite unsubstantiated,” said Dumbledore through gritted teeth. “There’s been a string of bad luck, that’s all.”
“Thirty-four years of bad luck?” asked Morticia, raising an eyebrow.
“This was Professor Quirrell’s second year in the position,” Dumbledore pointed out.
“He started in the spring of last year when Professor Drumthwacket left,” Greenstock reminded him. “So Quirrell hasn’t really been in the position a year yet.”
“And if Professor Lupin takes the position with the understanding that he’ll return to his original position at the end of the year, the curse will be satisfied. Not all of your Defence professors have left under dire circumstances, after all – only about a third.”
The blasted woman had done her research, Dumbledore noted. If Quirrell hadn’t gone missing only a few days ago, he thought she might have had something to do with it. If he didn’t know absolutely that Lupin was his man, he still might think she had something to do with it.
“That would leave us without a History of Magic teacher, though,” Dumbledore pointed out. “Although I suppose we could impose on Professor Binns again.”
“Binns is still haunting his old classroom and hasn’t noticed that no students come any more,” a parent in the back row pointed out. “My Jeremy says he’s learned more in two months with Professor Lupin than in three years with Binns.”
“It’ll be easier to find a History teacher than Defence,” said Mr Addams, speaking up for the first time. “Could do it myself, if the schedule is rearranged a little. Just till the end of the school year, of course.”
“A Squib teach at Hogwarts?” Lucius Malfoy interjected.
“Why not? Of the twelve subjects taught here, only two, Charms and Transfiguration, absolutely require the use of wands. Six of the others could be taught by a Squib as well as anyone else,” said Gomez, slapping his knee. “I believe I’ll do it! Problem solved! Next issue!”
And that was the way it went. Under the Addamses’ guidance, the meeting went from bad to worse, and within an hour Dumbledore found that they were installing Morticia as an assistant in both Herbology and Divination, and Fester was nominated to supplement the science portion of the Muggle Studies curriculum. The only up side to it was that the Family members did not wish to have quarters at Hogwarts; they would commute from their own home by Floo. In non-Addams related upheavals, the Muggle parents raised the perennial request for a Wizard Cultural Study course to parallel Muggle Studies (and a request that the Muggle Studies teacher have some practical experience with her subject, which the current one did not). Dumbledore found it rather harder to refuse them face to face than in correspondence, and chose to defer the matter. Another committee was nominated to deal with it.
“Now, as to your Potions Master,” Morticia said, ticking off another point on her list.
“I suppose you’ll find him hopelessly inadequate as well?” snapped Dumbledore.
“Why no, exactly the opposite! The man is a genius!” Dumbledore saw Snape start slightly at the approval. He had apparently been expecting a bad report as well. “He is, however, totally unsuited to teaching the younger children. He’d be much better suited to teaching older students – fifth through seventh, perhaps – along with a specialty course for those intending to go into Potions-oriented careers and a series of research workshops.”
“And just who will teach the younger students? And who is going to develop the specialty curriculum and fund the research?”
“If I may, Headmaster,” Snape put in smoothly, startling Dumbledore slightly. “It so happens that I have been in contact with a noted Potions Mistress from America, Mistress Eudora Frump. She retired several years ago, but is thinking of returning to teaching – on a part time basis, of course. I believe that I could lure her out of retirement to take on the younger students while I, as Mrs Addams has suggested, concentrate my efforts on the upper years. For a stipend appropriate to one of her stature, of course. And room and board.”
Gomez Addams spoke up again. “I’m sure the Potions Masters Guild has some curriculum material to provide. And we could apply for research grants. If we get one, the program could be put in place for next year.”
Dumbledore could only nod numbly.
“That’s settled, then,” said Mrs Addams. “Now then, I believe Mrs Fawcett wished to speak about a matter of serious concern to some of the parents. Mrs Fawcett?”
Mrs Fawcett – pureblood, Dumbledore recalled, with two daughters, one in Hufflepuff and one in Ravenclaw – the Fawcetts had never been one of the families consistently sorted into one house or another – was a tiny woman whose twittering, almost birdlike demeanour concealed a mind like a steel trap.
“Before I begin, I’d just like to say how much I appreciate Headmaster Dumbledore’s idea of starting this Parent-Teacher Association. I remember my own days at Hogwarts with great fondness, and it is a distinct pleasure to be able to give something back to the school after all this time.”
Dumbledore blinked and managed to mumble a gracious acknowledgement to Mrs.. Fawcett. She thinks I started this insanity? But of course, that’s what Mrs Addams told the pure-bloods to get them involved. They’d never have gone along with a Muggle idea. Clever of her, quite clever.
“What my committee would like to address, Headmaster, is the problems that result from having children in classes below their level of functioning. At the moment, all children are grouped together according to their age, without provision for individual ability and, ah, differences in preparation.” She glanced, a bit furtively, Dumbledore thought, at the Grangers, who were seated in front of her and so couldn’t see it. He rather suspected he knew what was going to come next. “You see, Headmaster, some children come into the school with the advantage of having had advanced reading, tutoring, that sort of thing. The classes are all geared to deal with the needs of students who come in with very little knowledge. As a result, some students who already know the material are bored – and I don’t think we need reminding of the mischief that bored students can perpetrate, do we?”
Dumbledore thought of the Marauders and shuddered. They hadn’t been the first batch of pure-blood pranksters, and they probably wouldn’t be the last. “Mrs Fawcett, I am more than aware of the inequities involved in schooling children of differing levels of ability together. However, it does more damage to separate the children–”
“Oh, no, we’re not suggesting separating anybody,” Mrs Fawcett protested. “It’s just, well, there’s a concept that some of the Muggle schools have been using. It’s called ‘Advance Placement’. Are you familiar with it?”
“I’m not sure that I -”
“It’s quite simple, Headmaster, I really don’t know why it hasn’t been tried before,” the little woman said enthusiastically. “Before the beginning of the school year, tests are made to see what level the children are already functioning at. How much they already know. So if a student already knows about Charms, say, they could be placed in a Charms class that is teaching new material for that student. The rest of his classes could be with his year. And it means he’ll be meeting and getting to know students in years other than his own, as well. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“But you are aware, madam, that a child’s knowledge could easily outstrip his developing power? The spells are generally taught in a certain order so that a child won’t get depressed by attempting spells he isn’t capable of casting yet.”
“But power development varies among children too, doesn’t it? So we simply test them for casting ability as well as theory and place them where the lower of the two tests says they should be. Additionally, the testing will prepare them for O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s later on. It’s a … what did you call it, Morticia? A win-win situation!”
“But what about the other children? Won’t they resent their peers being advanced over them?”
“If I may, Headmaster,” Mr Granger raised his hand to attract attention. “We’ve recently been through this with our daughter, Hermione, who was an advanced student in the, er, Muggle schools. It has been our experience that the other children don’t resent a student being advanced so much as they resent the more advanced child being in their own classes, showing them up. Out of sight, out of mind, you know. And if the child still participates in other classes, activities and meals with their own age group, there won’t be the social problems that happen when a younger child is forced to interact entirely with an older age cohort.”
“And if your daughter proves not to be as … advanced … in the magical milieu as in the Muggle?”
“Oh, it would probably do Hermione some good to fail a test for a change. And we’re aware that many of your students are born to magical families and soaked it up as they grew up. Even in the Muggle world, that happens. But I think you underestimate how motivated some of your Muggle-born students are to learn, and I don’t think they’d do as poorly as some might think.” This last was with a sidelong glance at Mrs Fawcett which showed that the two of them had already had this discussion, probably several times. “Pass or fail, it can only do the students – and their parents - good to have some objective measure of how they’re doing. And it will give the ambitious students a goal to shoot for. After all, there’s no point in doing better if there’s no reward for it. This also works the other way as well – if a student just isn’t ready for a certain level of work, they can repeat a year until their power level catches up.”
“It would take some time to make up these tests,” said Dumbledore.
“Not really, Albus,” said Minerva, and Dumbledore turned to her, feeling slightly betrayed. “We all have a library of old examinations. We each just take some questions from those, starting with first-year material and going up to seventh. Then when the student gets to the point where a student can’t answer the questions or perform the spells, we know where their levels of proficiency are, and go from there.”
“And what if a third-year student tests at sixth year? What about the O.W.L.s?”
“Why, we place them in a fifth-year class and let them take the O.W.L.s. There’s nothing that says a student has to be fifteen to take them, you know,f only that they be capable of doing the work. Really, Albus, I think we should at least try this. We could hold testing over the Christmas holidays this year, then, say, each summer in August before the class schedules are made up.”
“You realize how difficult it will be to schedule?” asked Dumbledore. “We’ve been using carefully worked out class schedules for years. What if a student is in classes that overlap, like first-year History and third-year Charms?”
“I don’t know about that. I’ll admit it’s a bit of a problem.”
“I’m sure it would be easier, Headmaster, if there were more than one teacher per subject,” put in Mrs Addams. “The existing schedule provides no leeway, that’s true. But we’ve already agreed on the hiring of an additional Potions instructor for the lower years, as well as assistant teachers in several other classes. Wouldn’t it be easiest to hire additional teachers for the other classes as well, so there would be enough flexibility for scheduling? There are plenty of unused classrooms, after all, so there wouldn’t be any need for additional construction. Just some outlay for books and supplies, and salary, of course. Yes, that would be best,” she said, ticking off the last item on her list. “This has been a most productive meeting, don’t you think, Headmaster?”
Dumbledore had had enough. “Mrs Addams! It’s all very well for you to talk about adding teachers to my staff, rearranging the schedule, and ordering improvements to the castle, but we cannot make such changes willy-nilly. There’s the little matter of paying for it all. The Board of Governors holds the purse strings, and there’s simply no space in the budget for new greenhouses and adjunct professors!”
“You see, I told you you should have taken my two million,” put in Mr Addams cheerfully. “It’ll take a lot more now to deal with things on an expedited basis.” He whipped out a book of Gringotts drafts and quickly scribbled one out.. “Here you go, Headmaster. Six hundred sixty two thousand, seven hundred twenty-one galleons, fifteen sickles and twelve knuts. That should cover everything, from salaries to improvement of the physical plant – I can have a construction team in here tomorrow if you want – and quite a bit left over for things like updating of the medical facilities and acquisition of new books for the library. And that’s for this just for this year. There will be additional donations for next year.”
“Mr Addams, I’m aware that as guardian of Harry Potter you have access to his family funds, but I don’t believe it is appropriate for you to use them to—” Dumbledore was sweating slightly; he could see the impressive number of digits on the draft Addams was holding out to him, and he had to admit he was tempted.
“Oh, don’t worry, Headmaster. This isn’t Harry’s money. I wouldn’t dream of touching that – he’ll need it when he becomes the head of his own Family. This is mine. As the parent of two children in your fine school, I don’t think there’s any problem with my making a donation out of my own Family’s discretionary funds, do you?”
Dumbledore took the draft, his hands shaking slightly. “I … thank you for your generosity, Mr. Addams. It is still up to the Board of Governors to …”
“Oh, silly me. Did I mention that this donation, which you’ve just accepted, makes me the major donor to the Hogwarts Trust Fund? And that makes me the Chairman of the Board of Governors. Does it not, Mr Malfoy?” Addams asked with a glint of steel in his eye. Dumbledore glanced from Malfoy to Addams and his heart sank. He knew very well that Malfoy’s Chairmanship of the Board of Governors was based on his largesse, and with that precedent, the balance of power had just shifted, unless Malfoy was capable of matching or exceeding the donation. From rumours Dumbledore had heard at the Ministry, however, he probably wasn’t going to be able to. “And since I’m the Chairman, I believe I should have your seat …”
The next thing Dumbledore knew, Addams was sitting next to him, and Malfoy had taken the uncomfortable seat next to Mrs Addams. The entire programme of staff hires, proposed construction and student testing, as suggested by Mrs Addams and her Committee, was approved by Mr Addams as Chairman of the Board of Governors, who shook Dumbledore’s hand enthusiastically and offered him a cigar.
Harry took Remus up on his suggestion, and showed up at Remus’s office door with Pugsley, Wednesday, and Hermione in tow.
“Well, I didn’t expect the whole crowd! Harry, if what I think is happening is happening, it could be pretty intense. Are you sure you want them all…”
“We were all together on Halloween, Professor Lupin,” Harry said. “Hermione saved us all with her Jelly Legs Jinx, so I think she deserves to know what’s going on as much as Wednesday and Pugsley do. Then if anyone wants to bail out afterwards, it’s their call.”
The stubborn looks on the faces of the other three said that bailing out was a very remote possibility.
“All right, then. Come on in. I was just about to pour myself some tea. Would you like some?”
They made themselves comfortable and Remus poured cups of tea all around.
“All right, then. Here’s what we know so far: Professor Quirrell was taken over by You Know Who, possibly some time ago. He’s certainly been wearing that turban since the beginning of the year, so at least that long. We know he was trying to get at the item Dumbledore hid under the trapdoor. We also know that you, Harry, were capable of undoing his spells easily, whereas Pugsley couldn’t undo the binding spell. Did anybody try the locking charm or ennervating Snape?”
“I tried unlocking the door,” said Hermione. “It didn’t work.”
“I don’t think anyone else tried Snape,” said Harry. “Having him awake was the last thing we wanted.
Remus nodded. “All right. You also managed to undo whatever was binding Himself into Quirrell, though again without intending to. Harry, I’m sure you recall another instance where you could undo a spell that Pugsley couldn’t?”
“The ritual room at home! It unlocked to my touch, but not anyone else’s. You think maybe that had something to do with Voldemort?”
“Maybe. We found a book there, remember? I’ve been trying to translate it ever since then, but with no luck. Every time I think I’m getting close to identifying the symbols, they all change and I’m back where I started.” He got up and unlocked the top drawer of his desk, pulling the leather-bound book from it. “Why don’t you take a look at it?”
Harry took the book gingerly. This was the first time he’d been allowed to handle the book, though he’d seen Remus trying to work on it several times. It had a plain black cover of buttery soft leather, and pages made of parchment, not paper – it was obviously a Wizard-made book, not Muggle. He opened the cover and blinked as a mess of nonsensical scrawls started squirming over the page. In a moment, they resolved into something legible, although still scrawled – the person who wrote this did not have good handwriting. “Hey! I can read it!”
Hermione looked over his shoulder curiously. “Looks like squiggles to me, Harry. What’s it say?”
“This is the immortality journal of Lord Voldemort. WHEREAS, I am (or soon will be) the greatest Wizard of all time, and WHEREAS, it is inconceivable that my power should perish at the end of a human lifespan, and WHEREAS, myth and legend tell of magicians who have achieved the ultimate goal of immortality, and WHEREAS, these have evidently failed in their goals due to the interference of others, BE IT RESOLVED that I shall fully investigate all means of achieving my goal of Immortality, and BE IT RESOLVED that when I have determined the most efficacious methods, I shall use them, no matter what costs are involved, and BE IT RESOLVED, that I shall not let the errors made by lesser minds foil my plans, and BE IT RESOLVED …” Harry stopped reading and looked up at Remus. “Thinks a lot of himself, doesn’t he? He goes on like that for a while. There’s at least another page of BE IT RESOLVEDs. Can I skip some?”
“Well, we always knew that You Know Who had an ego. Now we know it was bigger than everyone else’s. Wonder what he was compensating for?” The children started giggling. “Go ahead and skip a few pages.”
Harry skipped forward to the end of the bombast and into a more casually penned section. “Okay, this is mostly notes. Lots of stories from mythology – Gilgamesh, Osiris, somebody named Kosh … Koschei the Deathless? Tithonus – there’s a note in the margin here – ‘do not try this except as last resort – immortality as a grasshopper does not appeal”. Looks like he’s going back through all the old stories and trying to find out if there’s an actual magical basis for some of them. ‘Nectar and ambrosia – find recipes.’ ‘Phoenix-Firebird-Feng Huang-Garuda-Thunderbird – same creature? Hindoo Elixir of Immortality – based on phoenix tears? Try to acquire phoenix. Not Fawkes – he bites.’” Harry looked up at Remus. “Would that actually work, do you think?”
“Phoenix tears as the basis for a potion? Maybe. It’s known that wizards who bond to phoenixes live longer than others – look at the Headmaster, he’s rumoured to be over 150 years old – but there isn’t a phoenix in the world that would willingly associate with a Dark Wizard. Possibly he might keep one captive, the way Kaschei did. But it would eventually escape and break the Wizard’s power.”
“Kaschei? Is that the same as this ‘Koschei the Deathless’?”
“Probably,” said Remus, settling in to lecture mode. “Names change slightly over time, you know. Kaschei, Koschei, Kashchei, they’re all variations on the name of a Wizard who controlled a fertile valley – almost a small country, really – in Russia over a thousand years ago. This was centuries before the separation of the Wizard and Muggle worlds, of course. He had trapped a Firebird and was said to use its power to become immortal. Eventually, however, a Muggle prince came questing, freed the Firebird, and the Wizard and his palace disappeared from the mortal world. It was a very popular story among the Muggles, and remains so to this day. Of course, there are also variations – Koschei was also said to be immortal because he kept his soul inside a needle, inside an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside an iron chest, buried under an oak tree, on an island in the middle of the ocean. So you can take your pick of the stories.”
“None of it seems to be very practical,” said Harry.
Remus smiled. “The Old Magic generally wasn’t. It was very complicated and took a long time to cast, and sometimes had flaws that would turn around and bite you on the arse – look up the story of Tithonus yourself if you’re curious about what could go wrong. I dare say as you go farther in that journal, Harry, you’ll come across things more solid than myth – and probably very nasty. Obviously You Know Who tried something, and it seems to have worked, otherwise he would have died ten years ago. That book will probably tell us what it was.”
Harry flipped through several of the back pages at random. “Well, I’m going to have to work on my Ancient Runes if we’re going to find out. I see hieroglyphics here, and Norse runes, and some things I can’t recognize.”
“Can you copy some for me?” Remus said. “If I can read what you copy, it will help tremendously.”
Harry took a quill and a piece of parchment and made scratchy lines for a bit, then handed it to Remus. “That’s what it looks like.”
Remus sighed. “Cuneiform. That’s one of the oldest scripts known. We’ll need help translating that. And Ogham. I recognize the word ‘fish’ in there, but that’s about it. This project is going to take a while, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to copy out the book so other people can see it.” He took the book away from Harry and opened it at random, looking at the encrypted pages. “But you’ve already told us more than we knew before about You Know Who. We knew he was trying to take over the Wizarding World in Britain, and we know he had sympathizers in Europe. But immortality? Power everlasting? That’s new, and it changes so much. And it opens up all new questions.”
He sighed. “And now we’re getting to the ugly part, where we have a mass of questions and no answers, not yet. Why exactly can you, Harry, negate You Know Who’s magic when no one else can? Why did your touch destroy him? Why can you read the book he enchanted so only he could see it and open the door only he could open? He claimed he was a Parseltongue because he was descended from Salazar Slytherin, but is that true? And if it is, is your Parseltongue something you got from him, or is it a talent you would have had anyway? Are you, perhaps, also descended from Slytherin somehow, or are you – maybe both of you - rogue talents? Are there two phenomena here, or only one? Or three?”
Hermione timidly raised her hand. “Excuse me … Parseltongue?”
“I can talk to snakes,” Harry said. “It’s kind of cool, but it creeps some people out, so I don’t talk about it much.”
Hermione shuddered. “I don’t like snakes. They’re all slimy.”
“No they’re not!” Harry answered hotly. “They’re all smooth and dry. I’ll bet you never touched one in your life, did you?”
“Then don’t go saying they’re slimy. I’ll introduce you to one of my snakes, okay? You can see for yourself.”
“All right,” she said, abashed. “But the idea of talking to snakes is a little creepy.”
“Try the idea of being related to Voldemort somehow. That’s creepy.”
“How’s this for creepy?” put in Wednesday. “Maybe part of Voldemort got stuck in your head when he tried to kill you. And all his old magic stuff thinks you’re him! And maybe that’s why he didn’t die, because part of him was still here!”
“Er, Wednesday, I wouldn’t go that far,” said Remus, who was well-used to Wednesday’s flights of fancy.
“I would,” breathed Harry. “Look at her eyes, Remus, look at her eyes!”
And indeed, Wednesday’s pupils were dilated as she stared into Darkness.
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